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Revisiting the Original 1992 WIRED Media Kit

WIRED has been celebrating its 20th anniversary lately (and a little late, since the premiere issue came out in January 1993). The anniversary bears a special significance to me because my startup company at the time, Coconut Computing, was the first advertiser to buy an ad in the premiere issue.

I made an initial inquiry in August 1992, probably having heard about it on The WELL, where Kevin Kelly, who was soon to become WIRED's executive editor, was a very active participant in the online conferences. I knew Kevin from The WELL and various meetings and events, and I was very familiar with his work at the Whole Earth magazine, so when I first heard about this new magazine I thought, hmmmm this could be interesting to advertise in, not to mention read.

WIRED was founded by Louis Rossetto and Jane Metcalfe, both of whom I'd met at various digital/tech conferences (including, I think, TED2 in 1990). I remember seeing a copy of their Electric Word magazine at some event. This was a precursor to WIRED that was published in Amsterdam between 1987 and 1990. I was impressed with the quality of that publication but it was too early and after 3 years it died out. I liked Louis and Jane and had high hopes that this new WIRED magazine would be something special. I'd also heard that Charlie Jackson, who was a super-hero startup entrepreneur in San Diego (he founded Silicon Beach Software, which invented Flash, and was also responsible for SuperCard and SuperPaint on the Mac), was investing in this new WIRED venture. So far, so good.

You have to remember that the World Wide Web was in its infancy. Not everybody had email. If you wanted to contact somebody you used the phone or wrote a letter for the most part. Unless they were on The WELL or worked at one of the few companies that had Internet and email. And most didn't.

So I made a few inquiries and found out WIRED's phone number in August 1992 and gave 'em a call. I spoke with Coco Jones, an ad sales rep who was just starting out on long media career. She sent me a WIRED Media Kit, which for some crazy reason I've kept for 21 years. I doubt anyone's seen this thing in 21 years, including me.

Coco, who in 2011 would be hired by movie mogul Ryan Kavanaugh to be his executive running media partnerships at the movie studio Relativity Media, included a cover letter with the media kit. The letter was your usual magazine hype-filled cover letter that anyone who has ever been a prospective magazine advertiser has gotten a million times:

Enclosed is your introduction to Wired - the most exciting new magazine launch in America today.

Ladies and gentlemen, start your hype enginees. But hey, I believed it. I couldn't think of anything else as exciting as the potential of WIRED at the time. And I read and devoured every tech publication available back then -- there were no websites! Coconut had successfully advertised in a number of small techie magazines since 1988 and it worked, but it was time for a bigger audience. WIRED sounded perfect.

Her letter continued:

The merger of computers, communications and entertainment is revolutionizing our world. Wired is strategically positioned at that merger. It is not about products, or even technology per se. WIRED focuses instead on the people, companies and ideas that are shaping this Digital Revolution.

Twenty-one years later, the purity of WIRED's mission has become a bit muddled, in my opinion. A lot of it now is very much indeed about products and technology. The shift started almost as soon as the magazine came out, but was in full force at least ten years ago. Still plenty of long-form articles, but lots of short-attention-span products and tech to ogle over and desire.

Wired is a radically different consumer computer magazine that reflects the mindstyle and aspirations of the Digital Vanguard -- the most powerful people on the planet today. As creators and early adopters of digital technology, their vision and purchasing preferences determine the consumer products and technologies that are shaping the digital world.

You gotta hand it to Wired, they weren't afraid to hype themselves and their "Digital Vanguard" as being "the most powerful people on the planet today." Ha! Because they had 1200-baud modems, or what? Mac IIs with 21-inch monitors? Eye-rolling then, quaint now. I love the word "mindstyle," which never really caught on. Mindstyles: lifestyles for those with no life, except online? Not sure, but that's how I interpreted it. Maybe they meant "worldview." Certainly WIRED espouses a tech-will-solve-everything mindset that folks like Evgeny Morozov continue to love to hate.

By the way, I love the fact that WIRED's email address, if you look very closely at the bottom of Coco's letter, was (Hey and check out the CompuServe user ID above that!) Yeah, this is 1992 alright.

The media kit itself sported a decidedly techo-psychedelic design. "This is NOT your average, boring media kit," the cover announces.

"This is your life," it says inside the opening page. Not sure how that squiggly hallucinogenic black-and-white text image was my life, but hey, this was the age of Kai's Power Tools, so give 'em a break.

The initial pages in this wire-bound media kit were small sheets of heavy glossy paper stock. Each successive page was larger than the next, so you got a hint of the eye-candy to come. And then there was this brown-paper strip that wrapped around and locked in the bulk of the pages. A little scissors icon indicated you were supposed to cut it, I suppose like you were presiding over some ribbon-cutting ceremony. Only thing they didn't provide was the bottle of champagne to break on the bow of SS Wired.

It's interesting that as of the date of the letter, September 2, 1992, the gang at WIRED hadn't figured out the final logo for the publication yet. The final all-caps letter-block logo that's still around today wouldn't be seen for four more months.

I turned the page.

"This is reality," the next page announced. Okay the crazy hallucinogenic hypnotic text spiral was my life, but this color photo of a computer circuit board inside someone's head was reality. Uh-huh. I'm sure computer vendors of the time certainly hoped so.

". . . on the cusp of the new millenium," the next page blared. Aren't you glad we're past the turn of the century? That was so anti-climactic. But this was 1992, and the future was so bright, the Digital Vanguard wasn't just wearing shades, they were wearing VR goggles. (You know, I have been going to technology conferences for 25+ years, and I went to pretty much every one back in the late 80s, early 90s where Jaron Lanier was demoing his VPL Research VR goggles, and to this day, I have never put on VR googles. Every conference had plenty of demos, it was a major exciting thing to do at these conferences, to try on the VR goggles and see the Future, but the lines were always so damn long I never felt it was worth waiting for, and then when this became the pattern at conference after conference, I just decided it would be cooler to never put the goggles on. And to this day I have never experienced Virtual Reality.)

And there it was, this weird "This is Wired" brown paper flap that you had to cut with scissors to get to the next page. Imagine the labor and cost to prepare this one little feature of this document. I cut and turned the flap. Wired, it said. I gave up counting how many times this media kit said "Wired." and there was a photo of John Sculley from Apple.

"We are the digital vanguard," announced the next page. These six people. "These are the people who not only foresaw the Digital Revolution, they're making it happen," the media kit announced. Gosh. So who were they?

WIRED's Digital Vanguard, 1992 Edition

  • Jonathan Guttenberg, Manager, Corporate Development, Viacom International. "With computers becoming uniquitous (one of the most over-used words in this emerging field), the ablity for us to communicate with each other in a variety new ways will emerge." No shit. "Only our imaginations will limit us in what we can do." So a bizdev guy from Viacom was at the forefront of the digital era. Perhaps WIRED was trying to cozy up to Viacom, who knows. So, what's Jonathan doing now? Well, first off, he left Viacom in September 1992, right after this Media Kit was printed. (Maybe Viacom wasn't happy with his appearing in it? I dunno.) For the past 12 years he's been at his own consulting firm.
  • Chris Herot, Director, Advanced Technology, Lotus Development Corporation. "For better or worse, I'm always 'in touch.' Between my Skytel alpha pager, cellular phone, Lotus Notes, voice mail, video conferencing, and cheap long distance service, I can have a 'virtual presence' in the office from anywhere in the world." So whatever happened to Chris? Well, this 1972 MIT grad stuck around at Lotus from 1990 through 2000, past the IBM acquisition, and did a bunch of things until in 2010 he became CEO of SBR Health, Inc., where he is to this day. He also blogs.
  • John Evans, former president, Murdoch Magazines, President and CEO News Electronic Data Inc. "The fact that Wired is analog," Mr. Evans' blurb stated, "should not stop it from being one of the most interactive, narrow-focused and successful products in the information age." John Evans was a major exec at News Corporation for years. He passed away in 2004 at age 66. He led an interesting life.
  • Elizabeth Richard, Project Manager, EDI Financial Systems, Esprit. "Technology is playing an important role at Esprit and supports our marketing strategy," her blurb read. Whatever happened to her? She pursued a career in IT at major retailers like Gap Inc. She's currently at a management consulting firm called Alvarez & Marsal in San Francisco.
  • Rhonda Rubinstein, Art Director, Esquire magazine. "Machines define their users," she wrote. "Ask any cashier, bus driver, switchboard operator or computer programmer. The concept of a user-friendly machine still puts the machine first, but promises that people can successfully adopt themselves to its specific requirements. I look forward to seeing computer manufacturers give the object as many external possibilities as it has internal capabilities. Users should be allowed to define their machines; not just the color -- dull gray or matt black, and not just the software - QuarkExpress or Pagemaker. They should define the machine itself: its attachments, buttons, angles, forms, and layout. It could bring back a sense of open-ended creative license and a physical wonder of technology that I haven't felt since I was a nine-year-old with a shiny Smith-Corona." Interesting vision. Twenty years later, we're still not there, but we have come far. But the stranglehold of iOS/App Store and Android platforms suggests we are all still bozos on the bus. Perhaps the 3D printing and Maker movement will finally enable us to have creative control over the physical devices that have all the digital technology inside? So whatever happened to Rhonda? She's still at it, creatively directing companies. She stayed at Esquire until 1993, but by 1996 she was Art Director at none other than WIRED Magazine itself. Since 2008 she's been Creative Director at the California Academy of Sciences in San Francisco.
  • Andy Bechtolsheim, Founder and Vice President, Technology, Sun Microsystems. This was the only one of the six I'd heard of. "As early as I can remember, I was fascinated by computers and digital technology," he wrote. "After 20 years of intense involvement in this field, I still experience this profound sense of wonder and empowerment about what can do with these things. I am still awed by the incredible cycle of innovation in this technology and the changes this will bring to each of us and to society at large." So what has Andy been up to since 1992? For one thing, he was an early angel investor in a teeny tiny little startup called . . . Google. He wrote a check for $100,000 which returned a whopping $1 billion. Not bad. He has a detailed Wikipedia page and these days he's at Arista Networks. Yeah, I would say that qualifies as Digital Vanguard.

And so it went. The next page covered the editorial profile of the new magazine. "To invent the future, the Digital Vanguard need more from a magazine than raw data, a parts catalog or platform bigotry," the page said. "Wired is a mindstyle to a community tired of lifestyle," it said further on. Yeah, yeah, okay, whatever.

And in the next two pages we finally come to the heart of the matter: who does WIRED think is going to be reading this magazine? Is this an audience that I, as a prospective advertiser, want to pay good money to reach?

"The Digital Vanguard are the ultimate early adopters," WIRED declared. "They don't just foresee the Digital Revolution, they are making it happen." "There are a lot of magazines the Digital Vanguard have to read. Now there's one they want to read." Yeah okay, guilty as charged.

The data spills the beans: readers are gonna be 85% male, average age 40 years old, 90% college grads. Think about that. That means the Digital Vanguard right now are 61 years old. Ha, I am still a kid.

The reader profile continues on a second page. The Digital Vanguard are gonna be the "consumer paradigm of the 90s." I suppose WIRED was right. In more ways than they knew. Digital is everything today.

I find the checklist of the 1992-era Digital Vanguard interesting to look back on. "With household incomes in excess of $85,000," says WIRED, "they can afford to:"

  • drive high tech cars
  • buy sophisticated home entertainment gear
  • be among the first to discover new libations, like Chilean wines
  • disappear for six days of backpacking in the Grand Tetons
  • visit the Russian Avant Garde exhibit at the Chicago Art Institute
  • wear Armani suits, or Levis
  • have so many frequent flier miles they can't tell whether they're coming or going . . .

And then WIRED delivers the clincher: "Because the computer books [read: magazines] refuse to run consumer advertising, and because the business and lifestyle books deliver on overwhelming collection of bottomfeeders and technological illiterates" -- are you listening, Vanity Fair, New Yorker, Esquire, and Fortune? your readers are la-hoo-sers! -- "reaching the Digital Vanguard efficiently used to be impossible -- until Wired."

And now the ask. Why YOU, esteemed advertiser, should plunk out your money to reach the Digital Vanguard, who, after all, you now realize can ONLY be reached through this powerful revolutionary new publication called WIRED. Well alrighty then. Where do I sign up?

And there's Coco's card, crisp and as new as it was in 1992. So I called and ordered an ad. Gulp. Turns out, I was the first -- I learned this years later from Louis Rossetto -- advertiser to buy space in the very first issue of WIRED.

The back cover, with its pre--WIRED WIRED logo. And the back piece of that brown paper flap that I had to cut with scissors.

Fast forward to January. There it was! The first issue. With Bruce Sterling on the cover! (Another WELL user!) And our ad in there . . . somewhere! But where? I frantically turned the pages. Found it. Page 107!

We bought a one-third page ad, one column width. And there it was! Coconut Computing.

For the first week the phone rang off the hook. And not just looky-loos, but serious Fortune 500 companies. McDonalds called. They were using Lotus Notes but didn't like it. Could they have a 3000-seat license for our little ol' COCONET? Eeeeeeeeeeek! And then Alcoa called, from Pittsburgh. Wanted a major enterprise deployment, could we send out a team . . . ? Yikkkkkesss! We had no team, we were a tiny little shop.

Here it was, January 1993, and we were advertising client/server software that let you build online apps for Macs and PCs, apps that let you build basically anything graphical, but online over modems. Want to build an online auction? No prob. Online store? No prob. Chat, conferencing, instant messaging apps? No prob. Run online ads? No prob. This was all before Mosaic, or Netscape, or anything big on the web took off. (Egads, if we'd only patented some of the technology, today Coconut would be the biggest billion-dollar patent troll in the nation.)

"With COCONET software from Coconut Computing," the ad copy declared, "you have all you need to set up an online information service offering text, graphics, audio, file transfers, email, conferencing, and the tools to develop and integrate your own custom applications. More and more businesses and organizations are discovering how running an online service can give them a competitive advantage in the 1990s With COCONET's powerful client/server technology, your online service is limited only by your imagination. End-user communications software for PC and Macintosh can be freely distributed. Server software available on a variety of platforms. If you're interested in 90's-style online software, you owe it to yourself (and your users) to give us a call."

"Give us a call." Heh. Those were simpler times. Note that we had no URL or email address in the ad. But we weren't alone. Not a single advertiser in the entire premiere issue of WIRED showed an email address.

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